Skip to main content

Open data for the University?

It’s been an ambition of mine, since I started in Applications Division three years ago, to create a set of reusable interfaces onto the university’s core data sets, so that any university systems could have a consistent set of information about our courses, our people, our buildings, and so forth.  We’ve already taken some steps towards this goal.  Now I’m seeking requirements from learning technologists across the university as to what information they might need to provision and integrate their e-learning systems.

This is happening under the benevolent governance of the Distance Education Initiative (DEI).  The idea is that a course organiser can select a range of tools for her online teaching course, from a range of those available, with advice from their friendly learning technologist.  The DEI “data hub” will then provision those services with accounts for the people involved in the course, including students and tutors.  If people join or leave the course, their accounts will be updated automatically.

In addition, the various learning systems may share information back to central systems.  For example, the students’ marks could be uploaded to a central store, where students can see all their marks across all their courses.  Or if a student is struggling on a particular course, this could be fed back to their personal tutor, who could then decide whether they need to take any action.

To this end, I have arranged some meetings over the next couple of weeks, inviting learning technologists and service owners to tell us whether and how this sort of information could help them .  I will write up the results as a business requirements document, which will form the basis of a system design.  The actual implementation will probably proceed in phases, developing and deploying one interface at a time.  If all goes to plan, there should be a core system available this time next year, if not before.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:


I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…